Monday, December 10, 2007

Tricks of the Trade: Make your own studded ice tires

Okay. I did it. Just because. I found a great deal on some Kenda tires that I couldn't pass up, so I decided to butcher my old knobbies to see what exactly it's like riding on studded tires. This is highly unofficial and there's freezing rain outside as I type this. They'll get their maiden shakedown run in the next 12 hours.

Doing it is easy, but time consuming. I spent about an hour per wheel.

Before you get started, you'll need a pair of Mr. Tuffy (or equivalent) tire liners. I went with one size up from what's recommended because I wanted to make sure the liner would cover the screw heads.

Before you go gallivanting off to the hardware store, you need to to figure out where you're going to put the studs, and how many you'll need. I opted for opposing blocks on the tire shoulder in a zig-zag pattern. I then counted the blocks I intended to stud. In my case, I needed 68 studs per tire. This is a fairly tame stud pattern, which will place 4-5 studs into the ice at a time if I run the tires at 30 PSI or so. At 65 PSI, the studs won't even touch the pavement unless I'm turning. If I want some in the center block, it will require 102 total per tire, but I chose not to go that far just yet. This will vary depending on the tread of your tire and how aggressively you wish to stud it.

When you're buying screws, look for screws no longer than half an inch long (a little less might be preferable depending on your tires), and look for philips-head machine screws that have a flat face but a pointy tip.

You'll also need drill with a very small (less than 1/8") drill bit, and a screwdriver bit for your drill wouldn't hurt anything at all. This works best with a variable speed drill.

Finally, I recommend using some good leather gloves while doing the screw insertion and drilling. Be safe!

Now we can get started!

First, remove and clean your wheels and tires. Cleaning isn't really required, but all of my rolling stock was disgusting.

Then, deflate the tire:

Next, remove the tire from the rim. I really like the Pedro's levers. Note the tasty road grime and soap suds in the bath tub. I'm going to need to clean that up before my wife sees it!

Carefully and meticulously drill small holes in the tire where you plan on placing each stud. Consistency in placement and spacing is key.

Start threading each screw by hand. You should be able to see the little holes left on the inside of the tire from the drill bit.

Once you've started all the screws by hand, use a screwdriver or your drill to drive them in. Do not strip the tire rubber by over-inserting them, but don't leave the head standing out too far from the tire, either.

It should start looking like this

Once all the screws are driven into the tire, install the tire liner. This keeps the screw heads from abrasively wearing into your inner tube. It also holds the studs in place if they start getting loose.

Carefully install the inner tube and studded, lined tire back onto the wheel. Don't grab the studs! It'll hurt! Air them up and test them for leaks. If all's well, throw them on the bike and enjoy!

As with any modification like this, your bike will ride differently, so be sure to take it easy out there. Studs aren't meant for aggressive or high-speed riding. They're meant to keep you shiny side up. Riding with studs on hard, dry surfaces like pavement will decrease the life of the studs. It may also increase your potential to get a flat tire if the screw head eventually wears through the liner.

I put about 3/4 mile on them just now, and they work very well. They're not as noisy as I thought they'd be, and they're not totally slip-proof, but they're very, very confidence-inspiring, especially on level pavement with sweeping curves such as found on the apartment's communal ice rink jogging trail. Even 5% grade climbs and descents, while dicey, are do-able. Full report in the morning.


Bradly Fletchall said...

The bike shop a frequent in Sedalia special ordered a set of studded tires in for someone a few weeks ago.

The studs just barely poked out above the lugs of the tire.

I'm curious to see how your longer studs wear on the tire as you get more miles on them.

Dan said...

You are like the Norm Abram of cycling!

Lunatic Biker said...

My wife and I both have a pair of Nokian Mount and Ground studded tires which have like 160 carbide studs per 26 inch tire. We live in Minneapolis so we get good use out of them. I'll be watching to see how your homemade studdeds work out. I'm guessing you might end up using shorter screws next time.

Anonymous said...

I also wonder about the length of the screws. I suspect that a screw that sticks out MAYBE 1/8" from the stud might give you better control. I hope that the weight while riding and the length don't push the screw head into the tire. Make sure to follow up on this.

Noah said...

Dan: Thanks for linking that. I would have had no clue who Norm Abram was, although I'd heard of his show.

lunatic biker: Those were the shortest screws I could find at the hardware store on the way home that met my criteria. All I wanted was stainless screws that had a flat countersink head and sharp points.

My digital caliper says they stick out 4.5mm from the front tire, and 4.7mm from the rear (because it's more worn)

MRMacrum said...

Back in the 1980s and early 90s before decent studs were commercially available, I experimented until I found the right combo. I eventually found a system that worked well enough to sell to the public. Our shop manufactured over 100 pairs before I decided to stop and start selling the Nokians that were becoming available.

You made some basic and classic mistakes. Your studs will work, but they can work much better with a little more effort and expense. I would gladly pass on to you my recipie for studs that will outlast your screw head ones by a a factor at least 10. The pattern you used is okay but ...well, it's way more involved than to do it it here. Contact me by PM in Bike Forums - CRUM

Anonymous said...

Do you think that a couple of layer of duct tape would work in place of the Mr. Tuffy tire liners?

Noah said...

Duct tape might work. It would be a quick way to shave $15-$20 off the total cost of this project, assuming it works.

I'll warn you that installing and properly aligning the tuffy's was a pain in the butt, and I can only imagine the kinds of horrors that await one who thinks they can strongarm a few layers of duct tape into submission.

Anonymous said...

Fun to read, and i enjoyed ti all .
I'm surprised that you did not use nuts on those screws.
Ad two washers on each screw and there you go. Tighter and sturdier. Screw-washer-tire-washer-nut...
Anyhow, even if it's a bit old, thumbs up on this diy blogging.

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